Tag Archives: Equality

Biases cause errors in decision making

In light of my sharing an absurd (and biased) investigation about sexual harassment at CU, I am sharing this talk on biases.

Click Below to view the talk:

Creating a Level Playing Field

It’s an excellent talk and really made me think about my own judgments and biases. It shed light on how our judgements of people and their abilities may not necessarily be based in fact. I am not going to say much more because I think Dr. Correll says it best in her talk.

Below I have included a few links similar to studies she references, and then a few other resources on bias studies.

Links and Resources:

Constructed criteria: redefining merit to justify discriminationThis study looks at job discrimination in stereotypical male or female jobs

Gender and Race Bias in the Judgement of Western Art Music Performance

Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind Auditions on Female Musicians

Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students

Here is a collection of papers on biases complied by Columbia University:Gender, Unconscious Bias and Stereotype Threat

Here is an interesting testimony along the same topic:                                          How I Discovered Gender Discrimination

Declining Female Interest in STEM Fields

In the most recent years, the gender gap in STEM interest has been increasing.

The other day, I was sitting in a coffee shop surrounded by papers with equations scribbled all over them. Believe me, I wasn’t pretending to be a savant for the world’s attention. I went to a public place so that I would stop saying aloud “Ugh, you moron, you don’t know any of this.”

To my surprise, a woman stopped me on her way out and asked if I was majoring in math. I looked up and responded with a hint of defeat that I was trying to study engineering. Then I asked if she had previously studied math.

She responded that she had, and then proceeded to tell me about all of the different options it gave her, and about the different jobs she had which finally led her to the marketing of accessories (she pointed to a purse she had with her). We had a short discussion about all of the opportunities that having a background in math and science offers you. It doesn’t force you into one single career; it opens a road to opportunity.

Yet, in the United States, it seems we are still stuck in the belief that math is hard, or that it is reserved for only the smartest students. Believe me, you don’t have to be a genius to learn processes that go with math and science.

Pursuing an education in STEM doesn’t shovel you into a basement corner where you have to sit and endlessly pump out math equations, or drink coffee and write computer code all day. STEM fields teach you a way of thinking. Of course, there are engineers who will go into “hard-core” engineering, just as there are English majors who will devote their lives to researching a single form of literature from a very specific time period and geographic location. Certainly, there are people who have specific passions and talents in life, and pursue education based on this. There is nothing wrong with that.

However, many people want an education leading to a career of sorts that contributes to the world in a positive way and provides a stable income. My concern is that young women are being discouraged from educational paths that provide this because they are mislead about what studying the sciences or engineering entails.

The Interest in STEM Fields

Below is a plot of male versus female interest in STEM fields. You can see the whole report here.

The gap in STEM interest between high school freshmen males and females has been increasing.

Seeing that the overall interest in STEM has been increasing makes me incredibly happy. It is wonderful that students are becoming more interested in STEM fields. Many new and upcoming jobs have some component of science or engineering. Just look at how often we use computers and modern technology outside of what is considered “the engineering world.”

What is disappointing is that female interest in STEM fields has been declining since the class of 2010. In fact, the gender gap in STEM interest is steadily increasing. In addition to the declining female interest, the study also states “since the graduating class of 2000, African American interest in STEM majors/careers has dropped by nearly 30%.”

Engineering and science are fields that should include everyone. The skills learned allow for numerous career paths from medicine to business. While I think it is excellent that we see an increasing interest with male students (specifically Caucasian men), I must ask, what is it about our culture or the way that we are currently portraying engineering and science to high school students that is causing women and African American students to have a declining interest in more recent years?

Marriage Helps Male Professors Get Ahead

It does not help women. At least according to a study done with history professors in academia.

I realize this study did not focus on STEM fields, but I do notice something similar occurring in my area of study. I’ve had this discussion with many of my female friends as well. What happens when you are a female academic and you want to have a family?

It seems that much of the expectation and responsibility falls on the women. I’ve heard some people say it seems un-masculine for men to take paternity leave. Many of my mentors and role models are men who have wives that not only take care of the kids, they take care of day to day living tasks like paying bills, buying groceries, car and house maintenance, and anything else non-work related. My own mother was one of these amazing women, and there is no doubt it helped my father succeed.

Yet, when it comes to the complete reverse, I don’t see it happening. In fact, looking at all of the women I know as mentors in academia, none of them have a thrifty stay at home husband. That’s not to say it never happens. I’ve certainly encountered a few stay at home dads outside the academic world. However, it comes as no surprise that marriage is still statistically a detriment to women.

Something that I am seeing more often with the younger and newer generation of employees is dual parenting. Men and women are splitting the duties of child rearing more often. Technology has allowed for more flexible work schedules, or just working from home. So, now it is easier for couples to split up time at home with a child.

Maybe it is not longer maternity leave that we need to keep women in the work force. Maybe it is offering more flexible schedules to women AND men. Not only does it offer children time with both parents, it would eventually phase out discrimination women may face about being the ones to take time off from work for family issues.

Check out the video winners for a response to “Science: It’s a girl thing!”

Remember that Science, It’s a Girl Thing video–the one with girls dancing around, being girly, and loving the science of make-up? That video caused a lot of controversy, and gained a fair amount of negative attention. It was not what those on the university side had in mind for getting young women interested in science either.

The campaign itself prompted Curt Rice to propose a video contest, which allowed for young women in science to explain why women should go into the sciences. You can read more about this excellent contest and see the winning videos on Curt Rice’s blog. I encourage you to take a look. There were some really nice submissions.

 

 

Women Have Small Brains and Other Biases of Science

But we must not forget that woman are, on the average, a little less intelligent than men, a difference which we should not exaggerate but which is, nonetheless, real. We are therefore permitted to suppose that the relatively small size of the female brain depends in part upon her physical inferiority and in part upon her intellectual inferiority.

-Paul Broca

Paul Broca 1824-1880

Back in the mid 1800’s there lived a professor named Paul Broca. His work on the brain was instrumental in brain anatomy and anthropology. He determined the part of the brain associated with speech, revolutionizing our understanding of human speech. His work was thorough, and he was ahead of the times in his scientific thinking. However, even the best scientists can be influenced by social bias.

Paul Broca performed measurements of cranial sizes of male and female skulls, and found that the female cranial size was smaller. Was the measurement correct? Well, to a certain extent, yes. Yet, the problem with the study was his conclusion. A great summary of some of Broca’s study can be found in this essay by Stephen Jay Gould (PDF). The issue is that there are numerous factors that may lead to intelligence, and not all are linked to brain size. In fact, with newer technology, we have also found that it is neural connections within the brain which make a great contribution to intelligence.

Female Brains Are Still Smaller

Now, the time of Paul Broca was very different from modern day. You would think something like using brain size to prove women are less intelligent would be a thing of the past. Not necessarily. A study from 2006 by Philippe Rushton claimed that men were on average smarter than women due to brain size. This debate was still going on in 2006.

This same author published a paper in 2002 citing differences in brain size in different races are what cause the IQ differences. The paper, called “Brain size, IQ, and racial-group differences: Evidence from musculoskeletal traits,” in which the concluding sentence of the abstract states “brain size-related variables provide the most likely biological mediators of the race differences in intelligence.” [Rushton, 2002].

When coming to scientific conclusions, it is important to remember that correlation does not imply causation.

The ultimate problem with studies like these is that they completely disregard cultural and societal contributions to intelligence. For instance, we are just now coming into a time where more women are applying to college than men, and more equal opportunities are available to minorities and women.

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To end, I leave you with the most recent tidbit of information I could find. For the first time in recent history, women are scoring higher on IQ tests than men.

So much for that publication citing the reason for women’s lower IQ scores was due to their brain size.

Thoughtful Children’s Toys

I think this is a beautiful idea. While there is still argument about whether or not women are better at verbal skills and worse at spatial reasoning due to cultural upbringing or nature, designing children’s toys to give young girls more options in life helps them benefit in many ways. Creating an engineering toy that blends with what young girls in our current culture are interested in is brilliant. That’s what the creator of GoldieBlox is doing.

My Thoughts As a Woman

I sit hear scanning papers, clicking on my computer, scanning papers some more, thinking about the mathematical equations and how they can be used to solve problems. I hold the academic papers like a tomb of truth from which information can be gleaned and used to discover more things about the world.

When I started this blog a very short time ago, I wanted to share facts about things I found interesting. I also wanted to bring attention to things within our society that I think need to be changed. I’m struggling with the best way to do this. There was this part of me that was hesitant to share my own thoughts and experiences while stepping away from the safe word of facts and academic publications I am used to. One personal experience does not make a fact. Yet, I’m finding through reading many other brilliant blogs, that personal experiences are so important to shaping the views of society. Through each other we connect, and we see underlying problems that need to be fixed within the society wherein we live through our similar accounts.

In an equal society, this blog title would be called my thoughts as a human. Unfortunately, being a female engineer has shaped my experiences in a way that reminds me I am a woman. I wish I could say that it’s only being in a male dominated field that reminds me of this, and that I can just focus on that, but when I step into the world I also must be ever cognizant that I am a woman. If I forget, there will be something or someone to remind me of what I am, and sometimes this can be dangerous, so I must never forget.

During my younger years, I didn’t understand the meaning of being a woman. I didn’t see a difference between my male classmates and me. I remember being in an advanced math group in my class and working with another male student. There was nothing to even consider about this situation. It was just two students who enjoyed math, studying math together.

When I was 12, my family moved to a very conservative town. By the time I had graduated from high school, it had been made very clear to me that I was a female, and that, far beyond the different body types and sexual attractions, females are supposed to be different from males.

The reasons why there is this imposed difference in the way men and women are treated need to be addressed. I’m seeing different aspects at each level of the female life that may pose barriers to success and happiness. These obviously vary with severity from person to person and in different areas of the world. I will do my best to bring to light the things that are within my reach, and I will continue to read about the things that are within yours.